Exploring Taiwan: Real-life Spirited Away & Houtong Cat Village

February 20, 2015 § 1 Comment

Kicking off the new year’s goal of exploring more of Taiwan, Matthew and I have decided to take a weekend trip to the famed Jiufen (九份), the inspiration behind Miyazaki’s ‘Spirited Away’ and Houtong (侯硐), an old coal mining village that became a haven for stray cats. It was a relief to leave Taipei and get some fresh air. The train ride was an hour away and only costed NT.50 (about USD $2), which makes me question myself why I don’t go out into the outside world more.

Jiufen was an old gold mining town that prospered back during the Japanese occupation in the early 20th century. The town is tucked into the mountains and enjoys a stunning view of the Pacific ocean. The small area meant that the buildings are densely built, narrow roads and alleys that winds around the mountainous town.

I highly recommend exploring Jiufen at night. Mostly because you can avoid the throngs of tourists that visit during the daytime but also because the night scenes were significantly more interesting.

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Nighttime exploring

The quietness of the town at night was slightly eerie and surreal. Besides the random passerby or two, we didn’t come across anyone during our nighttime exploration. It felt like a ghost town, especially with the dilapidated structures and the endless rows of graves. The nighttime sounds that you grow accustomed to hearing in the city, scooters, neighbor arguments, tv sets, were nonexistent. Instead, you heard the ocean breeze and the occasional crickets chirping.

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Jiufen’s characteristic red lanterns and long winding alleys. Lights on, but no one in sight

After walking through numerous dark alleys and narrow staircases, we stumbled across this brightly lit tea house:

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The famous Japanese tea house #themoneyshot

It was just like a scene out of Spirited Away. The dark town backdrop just highlighted the bright building even more, absolutely stunning to look at.

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New year, new projects

January 15, 2015 § Leave a comment

Whether you’re a believer of creating New Year’s resolutions or scoff at those that do, it’s hard not to feel the sense of a fresh beginning as we usher in a new calendar year. Whether it’s the blogs recycling their ’10 ways to stick to your new year’s resolution’ article or your local gym pushing out discount memberships for those that are finally ready to shed some weight, the hopeful, infectious verbiage is scattered everywhere.

This year, I’ve decided to share my goals with everyone on this blog. One big part is because I want to start writing more (this new year’s cliché is killing me as I type it) and the other reason is to introduce a new and rather ambitious project that my sister and I are working on.

2015 goals:

1. Read 12 books by the end of the year – My reading goal last year was 20 and I smugly thought that would be an easy goal to accomplish because “I’m super nerdy and I LOVE reading <3″. I finished 2014 with a disappointing 6 new books read. This year, I’m lowering my reading challenge to a (seemingly) more manageable 12 books. Feel free to recommend new reads in the comments or over at Goodreads.

2. No technology (phone or laptop) 20 mins prior to sleeping - Smartphone addiction is a real thing and it’s scary. Everyone is compulsively checking their phones, even if there’s nothing to check. Real life is beginning to resemble scenes from Her already. I’d like to curb my overage daily usage, shutting down just before hitting the sack and using that time to read seems like two birds one stone.

3. Blog once a month - Not even going to bother explaining this one.

4. Go somewhere new in Taiwan every quarter - Taiwan is a stunning island and there are still so many places I want to visit while I’m still here. There are tons of great places I’d like to visit abroad in 2015, but the grass is pretty green on this side of the fence and it needs to be frolicked on.

Physical Well-being & Rock Climbing
- 1 day of cardio a week
- 1 day of rock climbing a week
- 1 day yoga a week
- Complete all silver routes at the Xinyi climbing gym and one yellow route
- Pass my belay test
In addition to my goals for 2015, I’d also like to introduce a new project my sister and I are working on called ‘The Postcard Chronicles‘. We’re both huge fans of writing and receiving snail mail (proof), so much we’re making it a goal to send one to each other every week of the year. We’ll be documenting the postcards received, our love for snail mail and other awesome things that happen. Keep an eye out for updates!
Disclaimer: This post has been sitting in my drafts for the past 2 weeks. I’m doing OK so far!

Taipei on two wheels – Riverside Park

April 13, 2014 § 1 Comment

If you ever considered biking on the streets of Taipei, you may be bombarded with scary riding stories from locals. Most of Taipei do not have marked bicycle lanes or signals. The easy, relaxed atmosphere that bikers enjoy in Amsterdam or Copenhagen is basically nonexistent. The streets of Taipei resemble something of a battlefield, with its army of scooters, manic taxi drivers and monster buses at every turn. It’s a feat that can be daunting for bikers who aren’t comfortable riding in chaotic conditions.

The Riverside Park is the answer to that. Bike lovers can enjoy a beautiful bike lanes while seeing a different side of Taipei. Though never mentioned in popular guidebooks, hunting out bite-size adventures at the Riverside Park is by far one of my favorite pastimes. Riverside Park (河濱公園) is a city-established parkway that wraps itself around the whole Taipei city, running along the Danshui and Keelong River. It’s a quick way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city without leaving the city, with extensive bike paths that can take you from southern Taipei (Xindian) all the way to the northernmost part of the city (Danshui). In addition to wide bike lanes, you will also stumble upon an assortment of parks and recreational facilities such as tennis courts, basketball courts, dog parks and more. It’s a refreshingly new way to see Taipei, as it exposes you to different facets of daily life. There are many different parks, entrances and bike rental stations scattered around the city, so it is worth checking out the full map to know which parts of the riverside you want to be exploring.

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Beautiful view of the New Taipei Bridge and the Beitou Incinerator

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The other side of Grand Hotel Taipei in Yuanshan

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Did not know skating rinks even existed in Taipei

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The merry-go-round at 兒童樂園 (Taipei Children’s Recreation Center)

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Clean public restrooms

One of my favorite spots is the dog park @迎風河濱公園 where you can shamelessly pet other people’s dogs without being a creep about it.

Puppy on the left can’t even right now

 There are also designated graffiti walls for people to tag around the park. The walls are painted white periodically, so it’s a good place to get your spray practice on.

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Graffiti wall

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Another section of the wall

Bikes can be rented at stations around the river for around NT. 60/hour. You have to provide a government issued ID or a NT. 2000 deposit if you don’t have an ID. Many people prefer renting UBikes (map), Taipei’s bike sharing service. The first 30 mins is free and then NT.10 per 30 mins for up to 4 hours. There are different rates for 4 hours or more, so be wary of long bike rides. You’ll need an Easycard and a functioning Taiwan phone number for the 1-time registration.

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A UBike kiosk

And of course the delicious food trucks and coffee stands that are available everywhere!

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Delicious!

Have you ever biked around Taipei? Feel free to leave your stories in the comments!

STREET ART: The Many Sides of Do Not Enter

October 6, 2013 § 3 Comments

Street art, the rebellious younger brother of the classical European art was out in full force yet again during my annual Europe trip last month. This time it took form in the “Do Not Enter” sign. The sign sits at the entrance of one way streets, nonchalantly denying drivers passage of entry. The seemingly mundane and predictable sign quickly turns into something unexpected and delightful for observant passersby.

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Using the traffic sign as a template, the artist (Clet Abraham, is that you?) uses its original element to create a completely new symbol. The new symbol detracts the traffic sign’s original purpose and takes on a new meaning.

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Defiance

 

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How the bird feels about people telling him what to do

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This guy is painting over the white bar

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do not entered becomes a pillory

Street artists are like ninjas, how i the world do they put everything up without getting caught?

5 Ways to Experience Bangkok

June 23, 2013 § 5 Comments

5. Marvel at the big picture

Like the iconic Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Statue of Liberty in New York, the Grand Palace is the one must-see sight while visiting Bangkok. Once you set eyes on the palace, you wouldn’t question why it was so recommended. It’s magnificent, breathtaking and a visual feast.

Grand Palace @Bangkok

Magnificent!

Grand Palace @Bangkok

Gold is clearly their favorite color

4. Look closely at the details

The detail of the ornate decorations may often get overlooked by the grand architectural structures. There is a lot to look at when you visit the temples and it can be overwhelming (especially in the heat!) but it is worth taking a few closer looks at the wall. You’d be amazed by the variations of colors and patterns covering the temples. The titles of each section are vivid, beautiful and different.

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The tiles and the border don’t look like they should go together but they totally do

Could people from the past create such beautiful work if they have the attention span of a modern person?

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These tiles have a Chinese feel to them

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Beautiful royal blue mosaic tiles

It’s not just the tiles though. The wall murals depicted scenes for epic stories. Even if you are unfamiliar with Thai folklore, you can easily figure out what is going on. The stories need no explanation.

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Alligators have always been hungry and deadly

It’s worth paying attention to details everywhere you go. As a tourist, it’s easier to pick up details since you are actively drinking in the new sights. If you apply a tourist-filter to your daily life at home, you often spot gems that you have never noticed before.

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Observing Snail Mail

May 28, 2013 § 9 Comments

I stumbled across an article yesterday titled “My Teenage Son Does Not Know How To Mail A Letter – I Blame Technology“. It was quite mind-boggling to realize that there’s a younger generation that has never sent or received a physical letter. That they may have no idea how to write out the address on an envelope. Time really slips by fast when you aren’t paying attention.

Growing up with a father that works in foreign services meant a lot of moving around. Every few years we would get the notice to pack our bags, hug our friends and say goodbye to the life that we have grown to love. Before the internet and email became readily available, sending letters was the only way to keep in touch (or K*I*T* according to my yearbook) with friends. International calls was an option that my parents vetoed from the start as each minute cost a small fortune.

Snail mail is by far one of the most intimate forms of communication between two people. From picking out stationary, drawing doodles and choosing the right words; every step is a process that involves precious time and effort. Each letter is personalized and unique to the addressee, making the experience even more exciting and special. None of this mass email update and send-to-all contacts nonsense that we’ve grown accustomed to.

I keep all the letters and postcards I receive!

I keep all the letters and postcards I receive!

We live in a time where we thrive on instant gratifications. Whether it is from a like, a retweet or a reblog, the satisfaction comes quickly and leaves even faster. That shot of dopamine makes us want to post more, tweet more  just to feel that momentary happiness again. Like drinking soda while dehydrated, you’re left wanting more. When you receive an actual letter in your mailbox, you’re left with happiness that lingers longer than a quick Facebook wall post. Thanks to the internet, the effort and speed of maintaining relationships have both been drastically reduced. Thus receiving a letter has become especially meaningful as the time and effort to write something on a piece of paper have almost become extinct.

One of my close friends has sent a series of these beautiful side-by-side comparisons of different places and things

One of my close friends has sent a series of these beautiful side-by-side comparisons of different places and things

 

Awesome postcard from my friend Sean

Awesome postcard from my friend Sean

Snail mail may be a lost art form to the younger generation, but it is one that I cling even harder now (you’re welcome postal service.) Instead of sending out long-winded letters of all my day-to-day life updated (that’s what Twitter is for), I have turned to sending postcards. Lots and lots of postcards. The limited space for writing is a welcomed challenge for my creative brain. Sentences are replaced with haikus (as they are the only form of poetry I can manage) and doodles substituted with the  picture on the back.

Picking out unique postcards has become a lovely pastime. I never hesitate to buy a stack if I stumble across a good design as it gives me more motivation to send them out. If they don’t end up in someone’s mailbox, they usually end up on my wall:

My bedroom wall

My bedroom wall

Do you still send/receive snail mail? When was the last time you received mail?

100 Years Before the Birth of Doraemon

January 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

100 Years before Doraemon's Birth Exhibition!

100 Years before Doraemon’s Birth Exhibition!

For those of you that are scratching their heads in confusion, let me back up a few. Doraemon is a Japanese comic series about an extremely intelligent robotic cat (Doraemon) from the future, that travels back into time to help a rather miserable, often bullied young boy named Nobi.  Doraemon owns a magical pocket, which allows him to conjure up thousands of different gadgets, tools and potions. Most of these special tools are used to help get Nobi out of his sticky situations that arise in his daily life.

This year, 2013, marks Doraemon’s 100th pre-birth year.

What Doraemon originally looked like fresh out of the press

What Doraemon originally looked like fresh out of the press

Pre-rat Doraemon

Pre-rat Doraemon

Broken-hearted

Broken-hearted

Though Doraemon originated as a Japanese Manga, he’s been a staple part of many Taiwanese childhoods. It wasn’t uncommon to find the neighborhood kids swapping the comic books, watching the tv show before dinner, and eagerly saving up our allowances to watch the latest Doraemon movie.

One of my favorite gadgets was the Dokodemo door, which allowed you to travel ANYWHERE by simply passing through the entrance. The door had a mind of itself, figuring out where the user wants to go without so much of a hint. It’s perfect for any quick escapes.

The other equally badass gadget is the Time Machine, which is located in Nobi’s desk drawer. You use the knobs to pick a time and travel through a time vortex. In the comics, Doraemon, Nobi and the rest of the crew would go on epic journeys into space or back into prehistoric times when dinosaurs still roamed earth.

Doraemon and his time machine

Doraemon and his time machine

Besides time travel, the capabilities of the gadgets and tools available would boggle your mind ! There was all sorts of things such as creating a clone so you don’t have to go to class, magical pens that can automatically writes down the correct answer on tests, a cloth that can reverse or fast forward time, gravitational paint that allows you to walk upside down, a phone where you can call and order anything…the list goes on and on. Anything your mind can think of, Doraemon will most likely have it in his pocket.

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